A brief interview with Diane Nelson

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diane nelson A brief interview with Diane Nelson

On an busy day for DC Entertainment, president Diane Nelson has been making the press rounds, and she very graciously stopped by to answer a few questions for The Beat on today’s management announcements and her first five months at DC.

Q: You’ve been running DC for about five months. As a self-confessed relative outsider to the sometimes daunting comic book business, what are some of the things you’ve learned in those five months that have helped you find the new executive team for DC?

Nelson: A good question. Probably the first month and a half, two months I was on the job Jeff Robinov and I did the process of due diligence. When we announced DC Entertainment we spent a fair amount of time with everyone at DC listening and learning and trying to understand how they do this. It was a complicated and at times even Byzantine business—for all the right reasons. What that then allowed was for me and Jeff to step back and really think about what we wanted to achieve for the company and DC Entertainment broadly and for publishing. That raised the question is there a silver bullet in terms of publisher? We arrived at the answer that it’s not a single person who solves everything, but rather approaching it as a team.

Jeff and I thought we wanted to reinforce and expand upon DC’s reputation as the creative destination. We wanted to be a creative company—who we put at the top along with me needed to compliment that and I think we’ve achieved that. It wasn’t easy and we did land on this configuration quite early but it took time to pull it together. I hope now after five months people at DC who have had to wait and wonder what was happening, I hope that now seeing the strength of this team, they understand it was worth the wait.

Q: It really is an all-star team. Can you talk a little about what everyone brings to the table?

Nelson: It’s a uniquely complementary group of people. I think in particular I appreciate how they approached joining this team. To have people like Jim Lee and Geoff Johns consciously make the decision to join the team is important. We want them to keep creating, and it’s in the interests of the fans to have them continue to create. But to have them both make a decision to be a part of the management team to build DC in the future is a real vote of confidence. That’s a big deal.

Dan [DiDio] and Jim—specifically as co publishers their teaming up acknowledges that the business of publishing is bigger than it’s ever been before. Which is fairly ironic considering the larger publishing business. But I think that they have the ability to ensure that we have shored up and are in a position to grow the physical book business at the same time that we explore and venture forth digitally. That’s tough to find in a single person, to have an appreciation for the creative process [and a sense of the business.] Each person on the team could arguably manage a company on their own but together they are much stronger. Expanding across all the platforms is where Geoff Johns comes in and having a strong and aggressive and innovative sense for creative and marketing is something John Rood brings.

Q: John Rood is probably the least known quantity to the comics community. Can you tell us a little about him and his portfolio?

Nelson: John is now responsible for sales, marketing, and business development across all of DC Entertainment, not just DC Comics. Part of what I’ve done with this team is we’ve turned the traditional publisher’s role into more of a creative and business person. Paul was a publisher who had strong creative sensibilities and I’ve intentionally tried to spread the business and creative across the whole team. We’re building a bigger business. John is someone I worked with at Warners maybe 14 years ago, and I was impressed with him then, and I’ve been trying to find a way to work with him since then. He’s never been tempted to do anything with me until this! He had a great position at ABC/Disney but this one got his attention and I am psyched to have him. He’s a great marketing person, an aggressive, smart guy, and he knows how Warner Brothers works, which is very important, as you know.

Q: Indeed it is. You mentioned DC’s digital strategy—this is something that has perplexed a lot of comics publishers. I know Jim Lee is heading up this effort, but can you give us some idea how you are going to be approaching DC’s digital publishing strategy?

Nelson: Again it is an area where Jim Lee brings an affinity and passion and level of knowledge that was really appealing to me. You used the phrase “digital publishing program.” Digital is in fact a category that affects everything in our business. John Rood is from a business and marketing standpoint very well versed in this and brings an innovative viewpoint to the digital category. He and Dan will want to figure this out—and at this stage it’s exploratory and experimental. It’s how we are going to tell stories on this platform for the future. I wanted a team that was going to address this aggressively, not as a hobby on the side. We’ve got to figure out what works for the future on not only this but in traditional publishing.

Q: How will Vertigo fit in with the new structure?

Nelson: All of the imprints are equally important key parts of the business. Geoff will also be involved in shepherding them in the future. With Vertigo, the importance of creator owned properties, creator generated properties, as an expansion and supplement to what we do, is a huge part of what the DCU is moving forward. Vertigo is enormously important and Dan and Jim’s mandate is to give it the same business parameters and goals as each of the imprints have. Geoff Johns will be looking at it with Karen to make sure we’re using the library to its fullest. The same will be true of Mad Magazine. We have a very deep and broad library.

Q: On that note, when you took over this job you mentioned that you hadn’t had a chance to be much of a comics reader. Have you had time to read more of the library?

A: People have been feeding them to me. But truthfully, I have been so busy that I am still a novice. I fully admit it as I said to these guys many times, I bring different things to the party. There is no way I will come to the party knowing everything that they do about the history. But I have a growing respect for what we have at DC.

Q: Finally, one question that many have raised: As you look at this all-star executive team…you have five very creative, smart and strong-willed people now reporting to you. Are you prepared for an inevitable disagreement on the team? A “he said, he said”?

Nelson: You know I’ve worked in the creative business a long time, and one of the strengths I bring to the party is that I am consciously used to working with creative, smart people. We should all be so lucky to have that passion and enthusiasm and level of dialog. As to whether I step in, I am not worried about it. I embrace it. As I think you’ve seen from the blogs, we are taking “No Fear” from Neil Gaiman as our mantra. It is key in this company that it has a safe and secure infrastructure to take risks creatively and from a business standpoint. I am also confident that these are five mature, creative people.

Comments

  1. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Thank you for asking the John Rood question.

  2. Great interview, Heidi! Nicely caps off your extensive coverage today…thanks!

  3. Tad Stones says:

    The best coverage I’ve seen. Excellent work!

  4. interesting! congrats heidi, what a way to start your new incarnation!

  5. love what I am reading here.

  6. michael says:

    Great, but short interview. Diane is a very compelling business woman. :)

  7. Al™ says:

    Nice interview. You asked good questions and she delivered coherent respectful answers. Nelson is not in the business of comics (she only used the word “comics” once, and that was in saying “DC Comics”). She is in business at a higher level, which can be a very very good sign for the DC brand, and its cross-media creative.

  8. Torsten Adair says:

    I am not worried, both as a fan and as a retailer. What we’ve seen with the re-organization (The “No Fear” Era?) is the placement of experienced and comics-knowledgeable people in key positions. They will handle the DCE business, while Ms. Nelson works the Big Pictiure with other divisions of WBE and with other companies.

    Exciting times! I wonder how Marvel will react?

  9. thequestion says:

    i don’t know why the digital intiative has to seem so daunting or complicated. what i want is to be able to:

    buy the same comic for a much cheaper price online on the same day it comes out in a comic shop. then i should be able to read it on my “ipad” or desktop monitor.

    simple!

  10. Glenn Simpson says:

    @theQuestion:

    I imagine what is so difficult is being able to allow you to do that AND make money from it.

  11. Glen, I think that’s where this thing called iTunes might come in handy for

  12. The digital initiative is daunting for 2 reasons.

    1) Levitz was slow-playing it, so they’re behind everyone else. (I’m told they’ve done the research, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve progressed beyond research.)

    2) They’re concerned about a possible migration to digital away from the DM. Moreover, how much of a percentage shift would start taking out the smaller stores? And then you have short term and long term scenarios based on that to consider.

    However, putting it near the front of the agenda is a BIG step forward that’s a few years over-due.

  13. Leslie says:

    No Harry Potter overload..but Green Lantern? We GOT TONS in stock and they must go at MUST-BUY prices!

  14. Ask Diane why her Next Generation Council at the MPTF feels the generations of entertainment industry workers that went before are expendable. The Motion Picture Television fund has been caring for needy and ill for decades. Now they want to opt out of their responsibility for others, and take care of themselves. Check out the website and videos. Real live people get old.

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